Everybody who has ever attended a sporting event of any magnitude has
witnessed, if not been skinned by, some form of ticket scalping. Ticket
scalping occurs when one man sells tickets to a game, a fight or a race to
someone else for more money—usually a lot more money—than he paid for them.
During Super Bowl week the Gross Scalping Product must have been well over half
a million dollars. In Miami, tickets with a face value of $30 were going for as
much as $200.
scalpers, most sold-out sports events in this country can be attended by anyone
who shows up outside the gates 10 minutes before game time with $20. Well,
maybe 20 minutes before with $30. By that time the smaller operators are trying
to get rid of what they have left, and the bigger operators, cutting potential
losses, have turned over what they still have to their "dumpers,"
usually kids who sell the tickets at, or near, or even below face value.
Sometimes that hurts.
"Here I was,
the guy with the great connections," recalls Chuck Puskar, a Pittsburgh
insurance man. In 1975 Puskar managed to obtain eight tickets to the Super Bowl
in New Orleans for a big client. "I had taken care of my client, and he was
grateful," Puskar says. "He flew me to New Orleans in his Lear-jet, he
wined me and dined me, he put me up in a big hotel. And here we were strolling
to the game, his group of eight together. We had tickets, we were set, you
know? They're all impressed. He's impressed. I'm feeling good. And then outside
the stadium, here are these little street kids waving fans of tickets at us,
yelling 'Six dollars! Five dollars!' Closer to the gates it's 'Four dollars!
Three dollars!' 'You can't depend on that,' I'm telling my client. 'Yeah,' he
But you can't
depend on it. Three years later in New Orleans, before the 1978 Super Bowl,
scalping prices stayed high right up to game time and closed at what seemed
like 1998 inflationary levels. Much the same held true this year in Miami: an
insurance man with eight tickets to the Steelers-Cowboys—whew, there's no
telling how many policies he could have written.
with a scalper tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth, the transaction is a
kind of wildcat grassroots capitalism. Some scalpers describe themselves as
speculators, old-fashioned horse traders, providers of a public service. In
more places than one might think, scalping is legal. In Ohio and Oklahoma the
only restrictions are that the cities of Cincinnati and Oklahoma City require
annual license fees ($3,500 in Cincinnati, only $100 in Oklahoma City). In some
states, Texas for one, there are no scalping regulations at all.
The verb "to
scalp," meaning to cut off the scalp of a person, is an American coinage of
the 17th century, but by the late 1880s it had become a term of commerce, used,
for example, on the Stock Exchange, where it meant selling at a lower rate than
the official price. Price cutting, in short. Just when it turned around and
came to mean inflated rather than discounted prices is unclear. But by 1928
"scalpers" were arrested for selling tickets to the Michigan-Minnesota
football game at a dollar a yard: $10 for seats on the 10-yard line, $20 for
seats on the 20 and on up to $50 for the 50.
wherever tickets are hot. Rock concerts attract heavy scalping. Two-dollar
tickets to the King Tut exhibit have gone for as much as $50. When a special
one-shot tour of Richard Nixon's compound in San Clemente was organized in
1978, a woman boasted that she had sold her $2.50 ticket for $1,500. But
scalping is especially prevalent in sports. The Super Bowl, the World Series,
the NCAA basketball playoffs, the big college football games, the Masters golf
tournament, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 are all major scalping
events. So are the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, the annual indoor
tractor-pull championships in Louisville and, of course, the Olympics. In
Munich in 1972 a scalping bourse flourished on Marienplatz, and in Montreal in
1976 one busy young scalper circulated from buyer to buyer on a skateboard. It
is almost certain that next year the Olympics will bring this example of
freewheeling capitalism to the shadow of the Kremlin walls.
Scalpers deal by
telephone, through bellmen, by means of classified ads, via friends. They
inhabit various well-established locations: in Boston on Jersey Street outside
Fenway Park, in Buffalo under the New York Thruway across the street from
Memorial Auditorium, in Cincinnati along the north side of the pedestrian
walkway leading to Riverfront Stadium, in Philadelphia near the Broad Street
subway stop at Pattison Avenue, in Montreal in Toe Blake's Tavern near the
Forum, in Los Angeles on Elysian Park Avenue or Stadium Way near Dodger
Stadium. When the U.S. Open tennis tournament was still being held at Forest
Hills in New York, scalpers thrived at a site where Son of Sam committed one of
tickets?" scalpers cry, or "Two?" Or even something so blatant as
"Hey, I got the ducks [ducats], who's got the dough?" Some scalpers
just hold up two fingers. Some keep asking for tickets, partly to camouflage
their selling activities from the rare policeman who might be in the
neighborhood, partly to keep abreast of price fluctuations, partly to obtain
tickets that can be turned over for a quick profit. The camouflage doesn't
always work. Denver's KOA-TV shot films of scalping transactions that
interested the local D.A.'s office. At one Super Bowl, plainclothes police
arrested a Hallandale ( Fla.) man after he tried to sell them two $15 tickets
for their face value of $30—provided they first give him $220 for a can of
Orange Crush and a box of Girl Scout cookies.
Last year at New
Orleans I got to know a scalper named Alex Carameros. There were wild rumors in
the French Quarter that someone had paid $1,400 for two $30 tickets and that
someone else had offered $2,000 to anyone who could find him two good tickets
and a hotel suite for one night. In fact, single tickets had been sold for
$300, and the going price to cooler customers was not a whole lot lower: $150
to $200. Carameros got top dollar. He'd buy tickets from softer-nosed scalpers
for $50 and $75 and resell them for $150 and $175.